I got a note from a friend yesterday. She wanted to hear my opinion on the Amazon Fire HD7. As I’m known as a tech-freak, this question wasn’t that uncommon for me. She had scrutinized and double-checked the descriptions on the vendor site, read tons of reviews, checked out some expert blogs – all pointing to one thing – awesomeness of the device (buy it now). But, she was still skeptical and wanted to hear from me.
In theory, shoppers in today’s information-overloaded world have access to a myriad of information that should help them make up their mind about a product and a purchase. The reality of course looks different. A fair number of consumers is exposed to many conflicting messages and turn to trusted experts and peers for advice when making purchase decisions. In an in-sore setting this would most likely be sales assistants who, in the best case are experts in their field, have an overview over the whole assortment, and can help shoppers find the perfect dress, laptop or even toothbrush.
Although customers enjoy the convenience of shopping online, they seek an experience that resembles the experience that they can get in a retail store. The absence of credible expert product advice in an online situation increases the shopper’s uncertainty and hampers online sales.
Many businesses have realized these negative effects and work on innovative strategies to make product advice available to shoppers and position themselves as reliable and trusted experts or authority. This is an important step, as it is also a way for businesses to make sure that shoppers do not have to research on other websites and risk losing customers to the competition.
Any advice that businesses want to make available in order to improve a shopper’s purchase confidence has to fulfill 3 important criteria :
- Expertise – “What makes you an expert?”
Shoppers acknowledge businesses as authority, if they can demonstrate competence in the area (e.g. blog or 3rd party credibility)
- Trustworthiness – “Can I trust you?”
- Similarity – “Are you like me?” or “How well can you relate?”
As technology advances, there are several approaches that businesses implement to share expert product advice with their online audience. For example:
1) Guided Selling – Interactive expert advice
Guided selling is an approach to offer shoppers interactive advice online. The rule-based question-and-answer system guides shoppers through a series of questions and generates recommendations based on the shopper’s stated needs.
- Expertise – Relevant information texts to explain product benefits and features
- Trustworthiness – Recommendations explained based on how well individual features match the shopper’s needs
- Similarity – Need-oriented, customer-focused questions to understand the shopper’s expectations
2) Social Shopping
Social shopping is a concept that can be found most often in the fashion industry. Customers can collaborate online and get advice from trusted individuals. It brings together a community of shoppers who seek product advice and a community of experts who advise them.
3) Digital Shopping service / Loyalty programs
Sears has recently launched a service called “Get Advice” that enables members of their “Shop Your Way”-loyalty program to ask questions and receive answers about products and services from fellow members of Sears in-store associates and other members.